Friday, April 24, 2009

Just finished reading - Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South by Adam Rothman

I got my first real taste of Deep South culture almost 2 years ago when I accompanied a tour group to Vicksburg, Mississippi. I had been to Charleston and southern Georgia, as well as to a number of places in Florida long before this trip, but the "western" Deep South to me had a somewhat different feel to it.

Historian Adam Rothman in his book Slave Country gives some possible explanations as to why I maybe caught a different "vibe" in this part of America. This book mainly covers the emergence of three states: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The story of these states is unique in some aspects, and not so unique in others. For example, instead of being incorporated into the Union from east to west, these three states were admitted west to east. Louisiana was added in 1812, Mississippi in 1817, and Alabama in 1819. But, they were not unique in that their settlement involved wars and the removal or eradication of the native peoples to gain their lands.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 from the French opened the way for this territory to be gained by white settlers. Migrants from Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky all flowed into these territories to establish a new lives. Along with the settlers came their slaves. The institution of slavery fit the labor shortage situation well in this region. States with large populations of slaves such as Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee found a lucrative sales outlet in the Deep South in the early 19th century. Slavery dominated the economy, especially when "King Cotton" was introduced and rose to prominence. River travel through the region on the Mississippi, Alabama, Tombigbee, and other rivers moved crops to commercial market outlets such as New Orleans and Mobile. Steamboats also appeared early on these same rivers moving more people, goods, and crops faster than ever before.

Of course-in the thinking of the day-in order to turn vast forests into fields for crops, and open rivers to navigation and commerce, the native people had to be removed or subjugated. The Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians largely inhabited what would become these 3 states. Slave Country describes the effort and importance of conquering these Indian tribes, and goes into detail about Andrew Jackson's efforts against the Creek "Red Sticks."

Slave Country is a very readable blend of social, economic, political, and military history. Rothman's liberal use of primary sources gives the reader a better understanding of the thoughts and motivations of the people who called this land their home and fought to defend and or claim it for themselves. I highly recommend this book to anyone who desires a better understanding of how the United States expanded and all the issues that came from the idea of "Manifest Destiny."

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